Is your Business Development Person Wasting Your Time?

How I got from graphic designer to business development person

As a kid, I couldn’t get my hands on enough arts and crafts. This led me to study graphic design at Parsons in NY and an internship with April Greiman in LA. After working for a few years in the design business, I decided I knew enough to start my own graphic design business. I had some business connections through my father and I became the person who got new business and my partner, Anne did most of the design work. Our small design firm business lasted about 4 years until I had my first son and Anne was offered to work as part of a team on a large and very important identity project. I was kind of left holding the bag with a studio and expenses and a baby and I wasn’t a happy camper. My friend Heather suggested I contact some of the larger firms around town. She said after running my own firm, it would probably interest them to have me. I sent out 10 letters, was contacted by 8 firms and met with each one. The one that stood out was an interesting French Canadian, Michel who owned a firm called OVE design.

I had no idea what Business Development was

Michel invited me if to do creative direction and business development for him and I said sure. He offered me a $25,000 base salary and that seemed very attractive after the feast or famine cycle of my own business. I actually had no idea what he meant by business development but I thought I’d figure it out. Long story short he gave me his mailing list of 800 names and I called each one and 2 years later I brought in several hundred thousand dollars in new business to the firm. At one point he had to tell me to stop because there was too much new business!

When I started doing Business Development, I decided that the objective was to get a meeting. I was able to get a lot of meetings but many were a waste of time. There was one time that Michel still reminds me of 25 years later when I run into him. I don’t remember what the company was but their office was far away. In the suburbs in a unit at the back of a strip mall. It was an hour drive each way and a 30-minute meeting. We showed our portfolio and they asked for a quote for a logo and said their budget was $2,500. On the drive back Michel said: “Don’t ever bring me to another meeting like that again”. I don’t do units, I do downtown meetings. We still laugh about it today.

That was in the ’90s and things were a lot different. I was really just making it up as I went. It’s now many years later I’ve figured out a few things.

I get it now!

In addition to my business development work, I’ve for 15 years as a brand strategist on large global brands as well as a few stints on the client side as a marketing director and I was the person hiring the design firm and I get it now. I know when and when not to go to a meeting. I know the meetings that will be a waste of time. I know what to say to a potential client to get them interested in working with me, I know their hot buttons I know how to price a project, close the deal and get paid. I also know how to create leverage, ongoing revenue and get more work from the clients you already have.

I know what clients are looking for and it may not be aligned with the things your Business Development person is saying to them. So is your business development person wasting your time dragging you all over the place to meetings that don’t translate to clients?

If the answer is yes, here are a few rules to pass along:

Your role in Business Development is not to get meetings. More meetings will not make you successful.

Have an in-depth phone conversation and be sure to qualify every prospect before you even think about a meeting. There is no point spending 2 hours in traffic to find out the budget is $2,500 and they aren’t even sure that they will go ahead with the project.  

Only arrange to meet if there’s a project on the table. Nobody has time for the meet and greet anymore or to see your portfolio.

Clients don’t really care about your portfolio, they care about results that you got for others.

Know the results that your firm got for others (not really talked about in the design business).

In summary, times have changed a great deal since my early days in Business Development. Back then people answered the phone (ok I’m dating myself). Even cold calling worked and that no longer works. New strategies are needed to connect with prospects and stay on their radar. Consistent marketing is a necessity (and I don’t mean holiday card once a year)! The Business Development process has completely changed and if your Business Development Person is wasting your time, take a closer look at what they’re up to!

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